By this point, those who pay attention to Virginia basketball know: Reece Beekman is an excellent defender. That’s not up for debate. When Beekman arrived in Charlottesville, he was already a strong defender; however, he continues to get better and better on that side of the floor, while his offensive game finds new avenues for success, too.
These developments speak to Beekman’s talents and work ethic. He’s a special player, with plenty of room for growth.
That this is happening again — with another Virginia player — speaks to how this program has evolved under Tony Bennett.
Even on the current roster, Beekman isn’t alone with this distinction. Kadin Shedrick has made big strides. So, too, has Francisco Caffaro. Jayden Gardner is a better defender now than he was at the start of the season. Virginia is an excellent player development program.
When the 2021-22 seasons concludes, Beekman should have some hardware to help hammer this point home.
Screen Navigation: Reece Beekman
During his sophomore season, Beekman has emerged as the best defender in the ACC. (If you’d like to make a case for Mark Williams or Justyn Mutts as ACC Defensive Player of the Year, that’s fine. Those dudes are awesome. However, Beekman is on another level.)
Currently, he’s one of only six high-major players (under 6-foot-5) with a defensive box plus-minus of 4.0. Beekman is on pace to became just the fourth ACC player since the 2007-08 season to finish with 4.0 percent steal rate and 2.0 percent block rate.
Reece Beekman: currently the only player in the country with 3% block, 4% steal, 25% assist rate
Since 07-08 season, only 6 players have finished with these benchmarks, including Alex Caruso (!), Jeremy Lin and Delon Wright https://t.co/XgLJ4dK3JX
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) January 20, 2022
There were elements of this last year, too, but Beekman has a “shutdown cornerback” feel to his defense, à la Deion Sanders or Darrelle Revis. Virginia’s coaching staff can analyze an opponent and decide whichever player it would like to see have an off game. If that opposing target is labeled positionally as a perimeter player, then Beekman gets the assignment.
The math functions differently, of course, if the opponent’s top option is a big man. Beekman isn’t going to work as the primary defender on Paolo Banchero or Armando Bacot, although in a pinch he can hold his own on a switch.
One of the things that makes Beekman such a special point-of-attack defender is his screen navigation. He has an uncanny ability to slide over or around screens. He never loses touch with the ball handler.
I found myself cackling during Virginia’s game at Notre Dame. Beekman grabbed the primary assignment vs. Blake Wesley, Notre Dame’s freshman phenom and one of the top guard prospects in the country. Watch Beekman’s footwork as his slips around this screen from Nate Laszewski, sticks with Wesley and rakes down on the ball to force a turnover.
At times, Beekman defends the ball as if he’s impervious to the entire concept of a screen. Wesley found that out that night. The freshman guard went 2-of-11 from the floor with two turnovers.
Whether it’s through film study, an understanding of game/clock situations or just his defensive instincts (or a combination of the three), Beekman can literally mirror the shot release of opponents, 1-on-1.
On this possession, Beekman gets off the ground and is on top of a pull-up 3-point attempt from Wesley.
Here, Beekman performs a similar tactic vs. Pitt’s Femi Odukale.
Beekman is a tremendous lateral athlete. Not only is he quick side-to-side, but Beekman also has excellent balance, which allows him to absorb punishment from more bruising ball handles, like Duke’s Trevor Keels.
Keels outweighs Beekman by 40+ pounds, but he’s unable to separate 1-on-1 in the middle of the floor.
Wesley has all kinds of tricky in his bag, though. This is a gorgeous stop-on-a-dime move to create space vs. Beekman. However, Beekman keeps his balance, is able to recover and makes a tough shot that much more difficult with a good contest.
While Beekman is an elite on-ball defender, his impact extends well beyond what he does on the point of attack. Beekman is an engaged help defender; he collects a lot of steals by intercepting passes, with incredible anticipation and timing.
There are other possessions of help defense where Beekman plugs multiple holes within the span of a few seconds.
From the win over Pitt: Beekman denies a drop-off pass the Hugley, then rotates out with a controlled closeout to force Jamarius Burton to drive. Of course, this closeout attack doesn’t break Beekman down; he slides and puts up a strong contest on Burton, who air-balls his attempt while the shot clock expires. (And there was much rejoicing inside JPJ.)
In addition to all of this, Beekman is a disruptive chase defender.
Tony Bennett moves Beekman around the floor, deploying him on a variety of different position types. For some opponents, that’s a primary engine of offense — a creator like Wesley, Alondes Williams or Dereon Seabron. Other nights, the assignment may be an attacking combo guard: Isaiah Wong or Caleb Love, for instance.
However, when matched up with Virginia Tech, Bennett doesn’t place Beekman on Storm Murphy, who starts at point guard for the Hokies. Instead, Beekman is tasked with covering junior shooting guard Hunter Cattoor.
Charted the UVA-VT rematch from this week — VT got revenge, but Reece Beekman did a great job vs. Hunter Cattoor
43 touches for Cattoor, 3 of which were backcourt/MISC
Cattoor's 40 defended touches: Beekman was the primary 34 times, Cattor 1-2 FGA vs. RB (double drag PnR 3) https://t.co/Nj1lLlJdBL
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) February 16, 2022
Cattoor is different from these other players, which is to say: he handles the ball less and runs fewer ball screens. He’s best as an explosive off-ball mover in Mike Young’s spacey, misdirection offense. So far this season, nearly 88 percent of his 3-point makes have been assisted.
For his career, Cattoor is a 43-percent 3-point shooter. That’s up to 45.1 percent this season — on incredible volume: 65-of-144 3-point attempts. He’s scored 1.17 points per off-screen possession, one of the top numbers in the country.
According to Synergy Sports, Cattoor has also scored 1.34 points per spot-up possession this season, which ranks in the 97th percentile nationally and is No. 3 among ACC players, just behind Dane Goodwin and RJ Davis.
When matched with Beekman, though, Cattoor’s struggled to get clean looks.
Virginia Tech’s offense mixes in a lot Chicago action. “Chicago” refers to running a player off a pindown screen and immediately into a dribble-handoff. Cattoor is dynamic at using these de facto double-screen looks to create open 3-pointers.
Beekman, however, has other ideas. He doesn’t bite any of the false motion/dummy action; you can’t fool him with window dressing. Next, Beekman shows his ability to glide over screens and stay attached to his assignment — similar to how he would while guarding a ball screen.
Here’s more Chicago action from Virginia Tech: Cattoor inbounds the ball and slips a screen for Murphy, before coming off a pindown from Mutts and into a handoff with Keve Aluma.
With Beekman right there, Cattoor is forced to pass the ball.
Let’s compare that with how Kihei Clark defended Cattoor in Virginia Tech’s Gut Chicago action last season. It’s an open look from deep. Cattoor doesn’t miss many of these.
New Gear: Downhill Drive Mode
Over the last 10 games, Virginia’s offense has perked up. During that stretch, Virginia has eight games with an offensive rating above 104.5 points per 100 possessions. Going back to the Jan. 15 home loss vs. Wake Forest, Virginia scored better than 1.1 points per possession in five games.
That may not seem like much, but it translates to an offensive efficiency of 112.8 points, according to Bart Torvik, good for No. 33 nationally in that stretch.
Beekman, of course, raised his offensive profile rise this season, too. In a vacuum, his improvements on that end are notable; however, they become even more impressive when you factor in how much energy he expends on the defensive side of the floor.
Reece Beekman, freshman season: 48 FG% at the rim, 3 dunks, 69% rim FGM unassisted — per Bart Torvik
Beekman, sophomore season: 61 FG% at the rim, 11 dunks, 68% rim FGM unassisted
(FTA attempt rate down to just 14%, though, drawing only 1.8 fouls per 40 mins) https://t.co/TCwc9h0BQF
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) January 31, 2022
The usage remains low for Beekman: 15.7 percent usage rate in ACC action. But the sophomore guard is shooting 39.4 percent from beyond the arc vs. ACC foes. Moreover, Beekman’s shown additional downhill driving flashes.
For the season, Beekman is shooting just under 60 percent at the rim; over 70 percent of his rim field goals have come unassisted, too.
After recording only three dunks as a freshman, Beekman is now up to 12 dunks this season.
By my charting, every dunk Beekman had last season came in transition — all three off steals he created. That’s not the case this season, though. Beekman is finding the rim in the half court, too.
From Virginia’s Blocker Mover: Beekman fades a pindown from Francisco Caffaro as Murphy cheats over the top and punches a dunk over Aluma.
As I’ve detailed before, Beekman — while curling or fading a screen — is an excellent half-court mover.
However, it was one of his finishes as a pick-and-roll ball handler that got me out of my seat in the rematch with Virginia Tech.
Once again, Beekman dunks on top of Aluma. This time, though, it’s an empty-corner ball screen while driving into traffic.
This is new and it provides a glimpse inside Beekman’s development. If he starts getting downhill more and becomes a rim-pressure guy, look out.
During this 10-game stretch, Beekman’s averaged 9.6 points and 6.6 assists per 40 minutes. He’s also shot 49 percent from the floor, 44.4 percent on 3-point attempts and 90.9 percent from the line.
Power forward Jayden Gardner is another big reason for this team-wide jump; he’s been a force inside of 18 feet for Virginia all season. However, Gardner’s averaged 16.1 points on 46.5 percent shooting from the field (93.5 FT%) over the last 10 games.
With Gardner on the floor over this 10-game stretch, Virginia has scored 116.3 points per 100 possessions, according to Pivot Analysis.
As usual, Blocker Mover has been the featured item on Virginia’s offensive menu. With that said, Bennett and his staff have added some variety, too.
This is a set UVA has used a lot over the last month, designed to get Gardner a touch at the elbow. It’s a frequent after-timeout (ATO) play call for the Cavaliers: baseline runner action, followed by a post-to-post cross screen.
Armaan Franklin is the usual recipient of the initial pass; he runs the baseline and comes off a set of staggered screens, which I’m referring to as “Loop.” (I’m borrowing this bit of terminology from the outstanding Gibson Pyper of HalfCourtHoops.)
Usually, Gardner sets the initial off-ball screen on the weak-side block. The center — Caffaro or Kadin Shedrick — set the second screen. That player then sets a cross screen to get Gardner open at the elbow. Those roles can be reversed, too. Either way, the goal is to find Gardner around the elbow.
The first read for Gardner is to catch-and-shoot; however, if that’s denied, then Gardner can look to play hi-lo basketball.
If the hi-lo seal option is taken away, then Gardner can face-up and make a play, which he does here at Pittsburgh — kicking to Beekman for a relocation 3-pointer.
Screen (The Screener) Time
Recently, Virginia has opened multiple games with the same screen-the-screener (STS) set out of what looks like a makeshift Horns alignment.
Clark will hand the ball to Beekman and clear to the far corner. While that happens, Franklin comes from the block to set a slice screen for Gardner. If Gardner is open on the block, he gets the ball.
As the play develops, though, Franklin immediately comes off a pindown screen from Caffaro. Franklin can look to score or get Virginia into some pick-and-roll offensive flow.
This play looks similar to something the Charlotte Hornets — Bennett’s former team — runs for starting shooting guard Terry Rozier.
Obviously, plenty of college teams run this type of action, too, including Georgia Tech.
Louisville has also mixed in some slice/pindown screen-the-screener action from its Horns Out set this season. Here, Jae’Lyn Withers scores a bucket in the post vs. Michigan State.
During the recent game in Blacksburg, Virginia mixed in another screen-the-screener action. This one is a beauty, too.
The Cavaliers open in a box set. Franklin starts the action by coming off a zipper screen from Shedrick. As this happens, Clark comes from the opposite block and sets a rip/back screen for Shedrick. Now, it’s up to Beekman to make a 30-foot lob pass, which Shedrick spikes home for two.
Shed Some Light
Speaking of lob plays for Shedrick, the redshirt sophomore center continues to emerge as a target when Virginia flows into empty-side actions out of Blocker Mover.
Shedrick scored 11 points and threw down two more dunks at Virginia Tech. He now has 35 dunks on the season, according to Bart Torvik’s shot data. Only three other ACC players have more dunks this season than Shedrick: Mark Williams, Armando Bacot and Jesse Edwards.
Going back to the 2007-08 season, only three other Virginia players have recorded 35+ dunks in one season:
- Akil Mitchell, 2012-13
- Anthony Gill, 2015-16
- Jay Huff, 2019-20 and 2020-21
Shedrick has come on as one of the best weak-side rim protectors in college basketball. The 6-foot-11 center ranks No. 6 nationally in block rate: 13.9 percent.
During ACC play, Shedrick has blocked 12.7 percent of opponent field goal attempts while on the floor, which ranks No. 1 in the league.
For a player his size, Shedrick moves well and can cover a lot of ground. He’s more comfortable within the confines of Virginia’s Pack Line system; however, he’s also shown the ability to deviate and make plays at the rim.
Currently, Shedrick is one of only six Division I players with 12 percent block rate and at least 35 dunks. He’s joined here by some of the elite centers in the country: Williams, Edwards, Walker Kessler (Auburn), Osun Osunniyi (St. Bonaventure) and Jamarion Sharp (Western Kentucky).
The improvements of Beekman, Shedrick and Caffaro highlight this program’s ability to develop players. Virginia may fall just short of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, but the future is bright.